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Sands of Time: Cycle Touring Rajasthan

ABT Trip Leaders Poonacha and Kamalpreet cycled 700 kilometers in 6 days across Rajasthan in 2014-15. From the beautiful valleys of Aravallis in Udaipur to the sand dunes of the Thar Desert in Osian, it was a journey in which new landscapes unfolded each day like layers of a rich, complex story. Avoiding major highways and travelling only along little known back roads, they encountered facets of Rajasthan that only a bicycle journey can reveal. The high point of the trip however was the little desert town of Osian.

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As you start riding from Jodhpur, the terrain is flat. The roads are excellent though, the kind of surface you want to let rip on, burn some rubber, push down hard on those pedals. You can see the countryside getting drier as you move on. The Bluebull or the Neelgai is a common sighting in these parts. Considered the largest member of the antelope family, the male has a slightly bluish tint to its body and hence the name. The female is brown in color and resembles a cow more than an antelope. Blackbucks are not uncommon either. And if you’re lucky, you just might spot a Chinkara, also called the Indian gazelle. Extremely shy and hard to spot, the Chinkara is easily the most graceful of the antelopes. Seen here below is a female Asian Antelope a.k.a. Nilgai i.e., Blue Bull.

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Osian is 70kms North West of Jodhpur. While Jodhpur city sits on the edge of the Thar desert, Osian is where the Thar proper begins. Approaching from the east, Osian is where a traveler would get a first view of the sand dunes characteristic of the Thar desert.

Osian is a sleepy little hamlet lost in the Thar desert.The sort of town you’d see in a Clint Eastwood movie or a Spaghetti Western, a town where nothing ever happens, until a mysterious man with a haunted past walks in one day with a gun slung over his shoulder. But this nondescript place hides the rich history of this ancient town. Like the anecdotal mystery man, Osian has it’s own past, at once both beautiful and terrible. It is a place with more history packed into its few square miles than many nations in the modern world!

Osian derives its name from the Oswal clan, believed to be Hindu Rajputs who converted to Jainism. Like the Oswals, Osian is a syncretic blend of Hinduism and Jainism with both communities worshiping freely at each others’ temples.

'Osiya temple and Architecture' by Schwiki via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

‘Osiya temple and Architecture’ by Schwiki via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

Two beautiful temples –the Sachiya Mata temple and the Jain temple have collectively earned it the moniker of Khajuraho temple. While the Jain temple dates back to 783 A.D, the Sachiya Mata temple is said to have been built in 10th century AD. The town itself – like so many other places located in the Thar desert – was an important centre of trade and commerce in the ancient and early medieval periods. However repeated invasions left it impoverished and its once flourishing population eventually abandoned it.

Osian is believed to be the result of a flowering of art and architecture under the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty. With their capital at Mandore near Jodhpur, the Gurjara Pratihara kings – the predecessors of the Rajputs – built up a large empire between 700-1000 AD that not just successfully resisted repeated Arab invasions from the West but even took the fight to the enemy’s doorstep, eventually routing the Arabs completely from the Western flank of the Indian sub continent.

With their dominions extending from Sindh in the west to Bengal in the east, the Gurjara-Pratihara kings became great patrons of art and under them Indic culture flourished and found expression in beautiful works of art, like the temples at Osian. Turkic and Mongol invasions eventually broke the Gurjara Pratihara empire up and with them the sun went down upon the glory days of Osian as well. No longer did Camel caravans, miles long, laden with the most exotic silks and spices traverse the desert. Today Osian is a blink-and-you-miss-it town on the way to Jaisalmer/Bikaner from Jodhpur. Cyclists are some of the few who have the time stop and listen to its whispers. And if you listen hard enough, sometimes you can hear, carried on the desert sands, stories of travelers and caravans and places far away.

Contact us today to start planning your next adventure in Rajasthan or browse our Colorful Rajasthan Bike Tour itinerary to get some inspiration.